What sustainability means to your company’s products: Part 2

This is the second post of Josh’s 3 part blog series on What sustainability means to your company. View Part 1.

Last week I defined sustainability based on discussions from the #DellCAP meeting.  Now I’d like to continue discussing how to create a holistic view of sustainability through this fictional example:

Lets take the cost of a mobile app.  At face value, you might assume a mobile app costs 99 cents.  But actually it costs much more.  To understand why, examine the full chain of environmental impact across a fictional phone company, PhoneCom.

There are three places to look for sustainability improvements in any business:

  1. Upstream: suppliers
  2. The company
  3. Downstream: customers and their behaviors

Let’s follow the example through these three lenses.

First, look at the upstream picture:

While PhoneCom doesn’t directly consume much water, the factories which manufacture the plastic and metal components tend to use quite a bit during their processes. The factories that assemble the phones also have to ensure their labor practices are ethical.  PhoneCom doesn’t use much oil directly, but when their product supply moves over the ocean in a freighter to their distribution hub, that freighter uses quite a bit of oil.

Next, look at PhoneCom:

PhoneCom’s operations are largely a sales force, datacenter operations and a support team. The sales group is large and many of the salespeople travel around the globe.  Here PhoneCom can look at changing travel habits through a different territory arrangement among salespeople.  For the support team, why not let them work from home 2 days a week, reducing the gasoline consumption required for the daily commute.  Datacenters can be changed to start using open-air cooling.

Last, look at the customers:

When PhoneCom’s customers purchase their phones, a new part of the cycle begins.  The most obvious impact of selling millions of phones a year is the power these phones consume as they charge their batteries.  But what about the recycling of the old phone?  And what happens when the customer starts using twitter and video streaming?  The net power consumption goes up, and the datacenters running the infrastructure start using more power.  You could even go far to say that app selection could have a huge impact on the power consumed by using the device.

That’s a big footprint

The footprint of a little mobile phone is huge: water for plastic production, labor practices for assembly, oil for transportation of products, oil for shuffling salespeople and support staff, datacenter efficiency to transmit your data, electricity to charge the phone, electricity to power all of those apps, and the recycling requirements of the retired phone.

Next time: How this will affect your business

Now that sustainability and where it lives in the value chain has been defined, the final piece of the puzzle is linking directives to business drivers.  In my next post, I’ll discuss how this could impact your business and how to drive the changes your customers will require over the next five years.

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Continue on to the final post in Josh’s 3 part blog series on What sustainability means to your company.

About the Author: Josh Neland